Email win: Displaying a pixel-art fallback when images are blocked

Remember that Pizza Express email that we featured in our ‘Image blocking in email clients’ post? The one that displays an impressive pixel-art fallback when images don’t load? Well, our friends at Email Fail have found another impressive example from Mac. Check it out:

Images on:

Images on

Images off:

Images off

Given the amount of work put into this fallback, Becs at Email Fail is right to ask:

“I wonder if the general public will ever appreciate this as much as us email designers?”

Perhaps this is a clever shout-out to folks like us - an easter egg to those who intentionally turn off images in the inbox, a maker’s mark amongst makers. To the Mac email designer, we tip our hats to you. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed.

For those wondering, this fallback is achieved by adding carefully cutting the image, assigning the pieces to individual table cells, then adding a bgcolor="" to each cell. Style Campaign has a free app for automatically converting images to HTML pixel-art to create a similar effect.

Thanks to Email Fail for sharing this full-of-email-win newsletter design with us!

Posted by Ros Hodgekiss

12 Comments

  • JJ
    31st January

    “I wonder if the general public will ever appreciate this as much as us email designers?”

    I can answer that. NO.

    In fact, if you don’t know what the picture looks like, it’s very difficult to even recognize what the fallback is supposed to depict (an octopus with just 2 legs wearing sunglasses?)

  • Emily Davis
    31st January

    i think this attention to detail is exceptional and to be commended. Pizza Express in the UK did a similar thing with their Jamie Cullum email campaign last year.

  • Garry
    1st February

    The main graphic looks great, but seems lazy to not have styled the link text so that it doesn’t appear blue on a dark background. The devil’s in the details, after all!

  • Rasmus
    1st February

    Any idea how the size of this mail? I have tried something simular before, but the kilobyte just went sky high, so i dropped it again.

  • Jay
    1st February

    I think that the client would never appreciate the time and effort it takes to do something like this… Well done to the coder (the designs are done by M•A•C)

  • leftylimbo
    7th March

    I totally dig it. Then again, I still play my Atari 2600, whose graphics are what the fallback reminds me of.

    Although it’s a novelty idea, I doubt half the clients would appreciate it as much as designers do. But isn’t that the way it usually is?

  • Matt
    7th March

    This is probably one of the worst ideas I’ve seen on here, if you consider it from the perspective of the average user who’s going to open the email and see that straight away (assuming Outlook and not adding it to Trusted Senders, like 95% of the people I know do), and I for one wouldn’t go any further.

    It’s an interesting idea, but TBH really poorly executed, and you can’t even read the text that is there, and isn’t that kind of the whole point of text-only emails?

  • Purchase Digital / email marketing
    7th March

    Agree with the commenters, not worth the time and the final image is actually hard to determine without knowing what the actual image is. Designing for images blocked is always a great idea but you need to balance this with how much time you’ve got. Same with designing for mobile - is it worth it?

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    7th March

    @leftylimbo - indeed, it’s our fate to create beauty unseen. *sigh* :)

    @Matt - Indeed, however it’s good to see designers pushing the envelope by trying new techniques. Hopefully we’ll find out one day how well this campaign went. :D

    I believe the text here on display is ALT text, which could have been nicely formatted. Here are a couple of tips on how to do this. The designer can be excused for not knowing about styling up ALT text, but undoubtedly it could be better if this had been done.

  • Justin White
    8th March

    Awesome, however there are several significant issues in developing emails like this

    . The time it takes is only recoverable in monetary value IF your client is willing to pay for this.

    . Due to the high number of images you spam score will be through the roof.

    . If you plan on styling the alt text of the image sliced for eg the Pizza Express email there are only two clients that will render such styling, Apple Mail and some browsers eg Chrome for the Online version.

    . Also if you are unaware of the image rendering differences in clients and haven’t come up with a decent framework or failsafe this king of development will break cataclysmically costing you more time than it might have already taken.

    . Requires a lot of attention to detail to pull off successfully this one in particular could have been done better BUT that would mean at least double the amount of images and <td>‘s making your code bulky and slow.

    On the positive: Well inspiring and if used shrewdly can add infinite value to your work and may just end up with you featured on a page like this in CM and you can have that feather to promote your E-marketting skills and get better clients that will pay for this kind of implementation.

  • Tommy
    8th March

    Agreed. It’s nice to see designers trying new techniques.

    For what it’s worth, images on looks like a Skeksis from Dark Crystal. “Hmmmmmmmmm”

  • Mary Keitelman
    11th March

    Text in email with images off is still not that legible. Does anyone want to click tho? The alternative image is a fun surprise, and a lot of people will see it.  I would add a compelling call to action in white text - perhaps Georgia—to increase clicks.

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